Editor’s note: Editorials are articles that present the opinion of the editorial team of the Kyiv Independent.
As a Ukraine-based newsroom, we don’t pretend to be neutral when it comes to covering Russia’s war against Ukraine. For us, the threat hanging over Ukraine isn’t just a story we cover, it’s a story we live.
Having had a front-row seat for Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine, its occupation of Crimea and Donbas, and the deaths of over 13,000 people, we see the conflict for what it is: an unprovoked attack by an autocrat who will go down in history with blood on his hands.
For nearly eight years, Ukraine was mostly left alone to fight off Russia. The war in Ukraine is a European war, but Europe has sat it out.
However, it looks like Russian President Vladimir Putin has finally bitten off more than he can chew. By making far-fetched demands and pushing Europe close to an all-out war, the Russian autocrat united most of Europe behind Ukraine.
Among Ukraine’s stronger supporters is the United Kingdom.
While other countries were busy talking, the U.K. stepped up and sent lethal weapons to Ukraine in mid-January. The arrival of 2,000 NLAW anti-tank systems significantly boosted Ukraine’s ground defense capabilities.
Earlier, the U.K. provided a $2.3 billion loan for Ukraine to rebuild its fleet. Ukraine will use the money to build two new naval bases, produce new vessels and increase its overall defense.
On the political front, the U.K. vowed to go after the multibillion-dollar assets in London owned by Russians close to the Kremlin’s inner circle.
The Kremlin elite loves keeping their money in the U.K. and Western Europe, buying apartments in Vienna and houses in the south of France. Targeting these assets could be one of the strongest instruments that the West has against Putin’s regime, and yet it has barely been used.
Other European nations must follow the U.K's lead and voice the same threat: to issue personal sanctions and seize the property of Putin’s associates if Moscow continues with its aggression.
Finally, the U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid a visit to Kyiv on Feb. 1 to send a strong message: The Russian people should understand that Ukrainians will be fighting for their country to the bitter end. Russian mothers should think whether they wish to risk the lives of their sons.
The support provided by the U.K. is unprecedented. By banking on Ukraine, the U.K. is setting an example of how a developed nation can support a democracy defending its values against a warmongering neighbor.
Now, it’s time for Europe to follow suit.
Germany and France, two of the largest economies of the EU, have largely stayed on the sidelines, choosing appeasement over standing up for what is right. Many German politicians especially have been hemming and hawing about any painful sanctions on Russia and trying to preserve their beloved Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Meanwhile, Hungary has reportedly blocked Ukraine from NATO's cyber defense center, even as Russia bombards Ukraine with hack attacks. Hungary's move came shortly after its Ukraine-hating leader met with Putin in Russia.
Europe now has the choice: Sit back, like it did when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, or use this second chance to stand up to the aggressor and be on the right side of history.
Shutting down Nord Stream 2, suspending Russia from the SWIFT banking system, and going after shady Russian capital in Europe – this is what Europe must tell Russia it will do if it doesn’t pull its military back from Ukraine’s borders.
It’s long overdue for the West to stand up to Putin. Russia should have been made an international pariah when it first invaded Ukraine in 2014, sending its troops into Donbas and annexing Crimea. Instead, the world kept talking to Russia as an equal and reasonable partner. Where did it get us all, eight years later?
We applaud the U.K, the U.S, and other allies for sending aid to Ukraine, raising the price of invasion for Russia. But it’s still a price Putin can pay. To truly stop him, the West, especially Europe, must step it up, and do so as a united front.